The grand debate over future federal spending began in earnest earlier this month when President Trump released his proposed budget. Scientific and medical research take an especially harsh blow, with the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) being reduced by $5.8 billion, about 19% of the agency’s entire budget.
What would the proposed budget cuts to NIH mean for Arizona’s bioscience industry?
In FY 2016, total NIH grant funding provided to Arizona was $163 million, which went to 382 projects. NIH exists to support biomedical research, and has a long history of funding life-saving medical cures. About 90% of the agency’s funds are distributed as grants to universities and other research institutions. NIH generally funds grants over a 4 to 5-year time frame due to the complex nature of scientific research. That means only about 20% of its total funding is available for new grants each year. Therefore, a budget cut of 19% would mean virtually no new funding for the upcoming fiscal year.
Since the Flinn Foundation launched the Biosciences Roadmap in 2002, Arizona’s health care and economic development leaders have been working diligently to grow our biomedical research and development industry. Tremendous progress has been made as evidenced by the creation of a Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix anchored by TGen, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. Employment has grown, and wages have gone up at biotech start-ups, hospitals and medical labs. NIH grants have played a significant role in this success. Since 2002, NIH grants to Arizona’s universities, research hospitals and other health care institutions has increased by 21.2%. Research conducted at these institutions is being applied in real-world settings to improve health outcomes and is spurring the creation of new biotech companies.
Our public universities are the biggest recipients of NIH grants, with significant funding also going to major research hospitals – Mayo Clinic, St. Joseph’s and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. These grants help build upon Arizona’s existing strengths in neurosciences, cancer research, precision medicine and Alzheimer’s research. For example, Mayo Clinic biochemist Marta Chesi is working to develop a drug that would help the body’s own immune system identify and destroy cancer cells. Researchers at the University of Arizona are looking at innovative ways to harness the power of beneficial bacteria to prevent childhood asthma. Banner Health and the University of Arizona are partnering on a major initiative to include Native Americans and Hispanics into the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program so that these populations will benefit from individualized treatment and tailored disease prevention. These projects and many others hold promise to extend lifespans and improve quality of life, all while advancing Arizona’s position as a leader in the biosciences.
Without doubt, there are opportunities for the federal budget to be refocused on higher priorities. However, America’s global leadership in scientific and medical research is at risk under the current proposal. Drastic cuts to NIH would do little to reduce the federal deficit, but much to slow down progress on medical innovation.